Cooks serve upscale tailgate foods at competition

24 Sep 2012 | Lance Cpl. Nik S. Phongsisattanak

Simply crafted foods married with competitive sporting events are the ingredients for an occasion part of an American tradition called tailgating, which dates back as far as the late 1800s.

Cooks and chefs from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and other Marine Corps installations redefined the delectable tastes offered at ordinary tailgates when they presented their dishes during the Culinary Team of the Quarter cooking competition hosted at the Wallace Creek Mess Hall Sept. 11.

Stacey Brannon and Gloria R. Crawford, cooks with Mess Hall 455, managed to stir up a victory with their palatable flavors. They started with a stuffed jalapeno, glazed-raspberry appetizer, followed by a marinated flank steak with four cheese baked macaroni and lemon-roasted asparagus entrée. Judges ended the course teasing their sweet tooth with a banana pudding topped with roasted coconut and chocolate drizzle. The cooks left their signatures on taste buds of many.

Mess Hall 128 took second place, Wallace Creek Mess hall took third followed by Mess Hall 411 in fourth.

“The event tested the culinary skills of the civilian and military cooks, and it created an atmosphere where they could compete,” said Charles E. Cone, the Marine Corps Installations East – MCB Camp Lejeune food service officer. “They could take the food knowledge they learn here and use it to improve food for the Marines.”

Fifteen teams of two cooks entered the competition and four of those teams made the preliminary qualifications moving them on to the heated showdown. Contestants were tested on tailgate history, basic food-service knowledge and food safety. Sharp minds were just as important at sharp knives.

Honing in on a great taste was the key to Brannon and Crawford’s victory.

“We had a couple of dry runs,” said Brannon. “We let the workers at the mess hall sample our food, and we got it down to a science. This competition gave us the opportunity to showcase our skills and challenge us to get outside of our box.”

Limited time caught many of the contestants off guard who were allotted four hours to prepare their dishes.

“I learned time goes by so fast,” said Brannon and Crawford perfectly in sync with widened eyes.

“When you’re not under the gun and there’s no pressure it seems like you have all the time in the world,” continued Crawford. “We used our four hours down to the last second.”

Hours in the kitchen were spent creating a close to perfect meal for the judges, but spectators would not be left behind. After the culinary teams presented their dishes, guests were able to judge the foods themselves and cast in a vote for the people’s choice award.

“There’s some real talent in here,” said Barry Lee, district manager of Sodexo. “The quality of the presentation and ambiance is amazing. This provides a little bit of levity to the day-to-day routine. It allows cooks to get a creative break. This is the one time where they can have at it.”

These cooks prevailed as culinary artisans and proved their ability to create an upscale tailgating experience tasteful to all.